Every year Arizona State Parks honors its volunteers. Individuals and groups are nominated by park employees for their outstanding service. The Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was given the Best Friend Award for their efforts to keep the park open during the annual Volunteer Venture was held at Catalina State Park in Oro Valley.
Annually, Arizona State Parks receives over 200,000 hours of support from volunteer service. In addition, several nonprofit groups, created specifically to provide funds and advocacy for the agency, provide hundreds of additional dollars to help keep parks open and fund special events and operational needs.
The quality of the work that volunteers bring is even more important to the agency than the quantity of work provided. Recently, we recognized the amazing work donated by several individuals and groups around the state.
The Best Friend Award to the Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park recognizes a volunteer or group of volunteers who have contributed significantly to the support of a park, natural area, committee, or the agency as a whole either with substantial fund-raising efforts or outstanding advocacy support.
Friends of Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was formed in July of 2009, in response to the threatened closure of the park due to budget issues. The first board meeting was held on July 22 with Bill Armbruster, Cameron Davis, Bill Ensign, Kenny Evans, Ken Volz, Pat Roth, Courtney Rogers and Bob Sweetwood as founding members.
This was a diverse group of individuals and currently still is. Members are government leaders, parks and recreation administrators, bankers, chamber managers, fighter pilots, and retirees. They are all united in a common cause — keeping the Tonto Natural Bridge open to the public and support its operation and programs.
The group went to task as fund-raisers were planned, events and shows staffed to promote group membership and raise funds, and items were donated for raffles to raise funds.
Armbruster worked tirelessly attending an amazing amount of local functions including the business expo, the Pine Arts Festival, and the Strawberry Festival to name a few. Ensign was busy writing the bylaws and organizational structure of the group. Meanwhile both were also donating their time and energy as park volunteers.
In June of 2010, the “Run for the Bridge” Poker Run Invitational occurred in the Pine-Payson area. This event was successful enough to help keep the park open beyond its scheduled closing date of Sept. 27.
The board members are an excellent example of how many things can be accomplished when everyone works together, state parks officials said in presenting the honor. They are a highly efficient, organized, and motivated group of volunteers. They raised over $20,000 to keep Tonto Natural Bridge open.